Here is the latest in our series of reader anecdotes about the end of the heyday of the Ivy League Look. If you’d like to share your own memories, use the contact button above.
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I was in school, college and grad school as an eyewitness to the Ivy League Look from the late ’60s into the early ’80s. I grew up in a traditional WASP family in the Philadelphia surburbs, including Bryn Mawr and the Philadelphia Main Line, as well as Chestnut Hill.
I actually think I was born with a rep tie, blazer, Brooks Brothers buttondown, and Weejuns all surgically attached. I never changed. My Bass Weejuns have always had the half-moon slip, not today’s more aggressive sweetheart lips slip Bass now sells. I’ve always naturally just followed my father, who dressed the same. He never changed. Being a Philadelphian, my parents and grandparents on both sides all went to the University of Pennsylvania, so it was pretty much my duty to follow in their footsteps. First receiving my BA from the University of Pennsylvania, summa cum laude, as well as Phi Beta Kappa, then receiving my MBA from Wharton.
During prep school and boarding school on the East Coast, I was always clean cut in the Ivy tradition. I always felt like the heavy breached Christian who needed the proverbial shove to unleash anything that would even come close to the sartorial splendor that arrived in the 1970s. But, to be honest, I’ll have to admit that I did fall for a brief time as an undergraduate for that sartorial anarchy to come as in the Princeton pic posted previously. But even with long hair I still couldn’t let go of the tweed jacket, buttondown shirt and rep tie.
Even though I really never left it, I really swung back to the Ivy League Look just as I started my MBA at Wharton in the late ’70s. Immediately the long hair was replaced with a clean-cut look, back to the white walls on the side. Ever since then its always been right back to my roots of shopping at J. Press or Brooks Brothers, also Chipp at that time and others. But nowadays I’m careful at Brooks, since at times they can be more trendy, which makes me too uncomfortable. I do get compliments from Brooks every time they see the date I started using their charge card, over 30 years ago now.
In addition to blazers, tweeds, reps and Weejuns, I still have my Greenwich Greens, my old Nantucket Reds and Breton Reds, as well as white ducks, white bucks, and madras for the summer, plus Lilly Pulitzer from years ago as well as other traditional stores that never change.
In short, I did succumb a little for a brief period to the transition, but quickly came back to my natural roots as conservative Main Line Philadelphian. To be honest, it was refreshing for a brief change, but I still felt a little uncomfortable until I came back to my roots of the Ivy League family tradition and upbringing. Since I’ve been in NY now for the past couple of decades, I’ve also thrown in a white tie pic, which is still pretty much a part of the Ivy League formal wardrobe and a big part of the Park Avenue Ball season, especially during Christmas, complete with decorations from various societies, clubs, etc. These fun formals, where it’s either family or friends, are even more de rigueur in Philadelphia.
And I still motor around in my navy blue Mercedes. Almost an “Ivy League Look” mobile in a way, such clean, conservative lines — very elegant and understated. I just can’t part with it, and it’s still very reliable. Just like the clothes. — WILLIAM SWALM